Northern Light

Belarussian editor released from prison

Aleksandr Sdvizhkov, the former deputy editor of the Belarussian newspaper Zgoda, was freed from prison yesterday.

Sdvizhkov had been sentenced to three years in prison on January 18 for having republished the Danish Muhammed cartoons (article 130, 2 of the criminal code, ”incitement of racial, ethnic and religious hatred”).

The newspaper was closed two days before the presidential election in the spring of 2006. It was perceived as a way to silence the opposition.

Sdvizhkov had been in prison since November 2007. He was arrested upon returning from his hideout in Russia, where he had been living since the indicment against him. Sdvizhkov is head of the Belarussian Social Democratic Party that founded the newspaper Zgoda.

Sdvizhkov’s lawyer Maya Aleksandrova told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the decision by the Supreme Court to release the former editor was based on the ”extraordinary circumstances” of the case. The Supreme Court reduced the sentence from three years to three months.

”I was asked to leave my cell with all my belongings. I thought they might have decided to transport me to the (penal) colony. Later, it became clear that I was being processed for release,” Sdvizhkov told RFE/RL.

The decision to free Sdvizhkov came after the European Parliament on February 21 adopted a resolution calling on the Belarussian authorities to release Zdvizhkov and former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin, who is serving a 5½ year sentence for organizing anti-government demonstrations in the wake of 2006 presidential elections.

By the way: Isn’t that what a presidential candidate from the opposition is supposed to to?

Zdvizhkov lost half his teeth in prison and his hearing and sight have deteriorated. Sdvizhkov said that he didn’t feel well and would focus on his physical recovery.

Zdvizhkov is one of four political prisoners in Belarus who have been released from prison within the past few weeks.

February 15 opposition leader and former MP Andrei Klimov was released. Since August last year he had been serving a two-year sentence in jail. He was convicted for having insulted the president and called for a revolution.

Two student activists, Artur Finkevich and Zmitser Dashkevich, have also been released from a detention facility.